Fatal crash learner driver spared jail

A LEARNER driver who lied about being behind the wheel in the moments after an horrific crash that killed her boyfriend has been spared a custodial sentence.

James Hore

A LEARNER driver who lied about being behind the wheel in the moments after an horrific crash that killed her boyfriend has been spared a custodial sentence.

Anna Marie Hibben, 18, had failed her driving test three times but was driving her partner Gary Pitchford's silver Peugeot 106 with the 17-year-old in the passenger seat at the time of the fatal accident.

Chelmsford Crown Court yesterday heard how the teenager wishes she had been the one to die in the tragic crash.

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Hibben was not insured and was driving without lights on when she lost control on a countryside road and struck a tree at Langenhoe, near Colchester, just after 11pm last May. The court was told at the scene of the accident Hibben repeatedly said “I was not driving”.

However the teenager's sandal was found under car's brake pedal and expert forensic evidence provided “conclusive support” that she was driving at the moment of impact.

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Hibben, who openly wept throughout much of the proceedings, has no memory of the accident but now accepts she was the driver, the court heard.

The Leeds University student yesterday admitted causing death by careless driving and a second charge of driving without insurance and was handed a nine-month suspended sentence.

The court heard that Gary's mother, Diane, believed her son's death was a “hugely regrettable accident”.

There were no witnesses but one woman, Tracey Dodkins, was in bed when she heard the car in the moments before the crash on Abberton Road and described how her body “tensed up” as she thought it was going too fast.

Ryan Amos, who knew Hibben through school, was driving in the opposite direction and was forced to brake sharply and go off the road in a desperate attempt to avoid the Peugoet.

Kwame Inyundo, prosecuting, said the two cars had clipped each other with the Peugeot smashing into a tree.

Mr Amos helped Hibben from the car but Gary, who was in the front, was left trapped in the vehicle and had to be cut free by firefighters.

The Colchester teenager, who had dreamed of becoming a firefighter, was flown to Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge but died on May 20 with his family alongside him.

The court heard that the car was “barely distinguishable” following the impact on the 60mph stretch of road.

Mr Inyundo said Gary's limited driving experience meant he should not have been supervising his girlfriend of just four weeks.

He said Hibben, who was doing between 57mph and 63mph according to expert evidence, lost control of the car as she went round a bend, causing it to spin.

A few days after the accident Hibben told Gary's brother, Wayne, that she had been driving but could not remember what had happened.

During police interview she told officers she could only remember the evening before the crash and then waking up in hospital.

Catherine Bradshaw, mitigating, said: “This is an extremely sad scenario for all of those concerned and clearly she is extremely remorseful in relation to this matter...

“She wishes she could put herself in Gary's place, that is something she wishes she could do- to go back in time.”

Miss Bradshaw said Hibben, of West Mersea, would live with the consequences forever, regardless of the sentence passed.

Judge Christopher Ball QC said it was “impossible” to do justice in such a case, but said young people “don't realise how dangerous cars are”.

He said: “They are full of self-confidence, but they do not have the experience that comes with maturity and time and again make the sort of mistake that you made that night.

“You were driving that car late at night, you were an inexperienced driver, not necessarily a good driver, still learning, perhaps thought you were better than you were...”

He said his sentence took into account the “considerate and compassionate” words which he had heard from members of Gary's family.

Hibben was sentenced to nine months at a young offenders' institution, suspended on each count, to run concurrently and ordered her to be electronically tagged and placed under house curfew for three months from 9pm-6am.

Judge Ball also banned her from driving for three years and ordered her to take an extended test to regain her licence.

Hibben, who gave a zero reading when tested for alcohol, denied a third count of not being a qualified driver, which was left to lie on file.

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